Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons by David Bollier

by Cam N. Coulter

Posted on November 17, 2016 reading

New Society Publishers, 2014.

In Think Like a Commoner, David Bollier provides a newbie-friendly introduction to “the commons.” If you’ve heard of the commons, chances are you’ve heard of the so-called “tragedy of the commons,” a term coined by Garrett Hardin in 1968. The thing is, Hardin doesn’t seem to have understood what a commons was. A commons consists of a a commonly-held resource, plus a community, plus a set of shared social norms and protocols regarding how to steward the resource.What Hardin thinks of as a commons is actually an unmanaged common-pool resource. I’m trying to say: if all you know about the commons is the “tragedy of the commons” (or, if you don’t even know about that), you need to read Think Like a Commoner. It’ll change the way you see the world in a small (but fundamental) way.

Most of us don’t even see the commons, even though they’re all around us. In fact, we interact with digital commons all the time; examples include Wikipedia and Free and open source software (which powers the Internet, Chromebooks, Android phones, and countless Internet-of-Things devices). Commons are also commonly (and effectively) used to manage natural resources.

Think Like a Commoner is a fantastic book, and I suspect I will be pushing it onto my friends for years to come. In this short, readable book, Bollier introduces the commons, outlines several types of enclosures of the commons (the real tragedy, in which commoners are dispossessed of jointly-held resources), and powerfully argues that the commons can function as an alternative to the state and the market as a system of production and governance. Often, Bollier argues, commons are fairer, more efficient, and more empowering than either the market or state when it comes to producing and managing resources.

Commons offer one of the most hopeful visions of the future that I have come across, and this book encapsulates that hope in an interesting, accessible way. I recommend everyone read David Bollier’s Think Like a Commoner.

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nonfiction: free culture, free software, and the commons David Bollier